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Suspension now unpaid for WV asst. principal who confronted transgender teen

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In a reversal, the Harrison County school system has placed the Liberty High assistant principal who confronted a transgender student for using the boys restroom on unpaid suspension.

That’s according to Harrison Board of Education President Frank Devono Jr., who said Assistant Principal Lee Livengood’s unpaid suspension will last through Feb. 1, and he’ll have to meet yet-unspecified stipulations before he returns. Devono said the school board voted unanimously Tuesday to suspend without pay.

Harrison schools Superintendent Mark Manchin announced Dec. 18 that Livengood was on paid suspension.

But Devono said that about two weeks ago, during a closed session at a board meeting, a number of board members (he declined to specify how many) told Manchin that “we did not agree with a paid suspension.”

“We did not direct Manchin to do anything,” Devono said of that closed session discussion. But he said Manchin did change the suspension to unpaid, and on Tuesday, the board voted to retroactively approve the unpaid suspension and extend it through the rest of this month.

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia alleged that Livengood harassed Michael Critchfield, 15, in a boys restroom on Nov. 27.

“While Michael was still using the facilities in the stall, Mr. Livengood came into the restroom and began questioning Michael as to why he was using the restroom,” the ACLU said in a letter to Manchin. “Shockingly, Mr. Livengood then challenged Michael to ‘come out here and use the urinal,’ if he was really a boy.”

About half of transgender teen boys have attempted suicide at least once, according to a September study in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Manchin’s paid suspension of Livengood came only amid the ACLU letter and media reports on the letter, despite the ACLU saying Michael’s parents spoke with administrators on Nov. 27.

Manchin has said that, while there’s no written policy on the issue, the county school system doesn’t allow transgender students to use the restrooms matching their gender identities.

“We provide them a restroom, a private restroom right now,” or they can use the restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, Manchin previously said. He suggested that allowing a transgender student to use the restroom matching their gender identity could make other students and parents uncomfortable.

“That’s one of the things we’ll have to discuss as a board,” Devono said of that unwritten practice.

“In my deliberations with this situation, to me, this was not an issue about a transgender student being allowed or not allowed to use a specific bathroom, this was an issue about an administrator overstepping his bounds and cornering a student and being ... intrusive,” Devono said. “I guess what I’m saying is he had no business following that student into a restroom.”

Devono said board members were presented an investigative report in closed session Tuesday.

Manchin has said Livengood said he “never initiated” the conversation about using the urinal, and Devono said he doesn’t have proof of what statements Livengood made.

ACLU of West Virginia Executive Director Joseph Cohen said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the ACLU had a “productive discussion” Tuesday with Manchin.

“Michael and his family were heartened with the outcome of the meeting and are now looking forward to working with the school district to make a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ students in Harrison County,” Cohen said. “Because of Michael’s bravery and willingness to come forward, we now have the opportunity to replicate and expand on inclusion practices in other counties across West Virginia to ensure this never happens again to anyone under any circumstance.”

Manchin is a cousin of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Devono is the son of former Monongalia County superintendent Frank Devono and nephew of Randolph County Superintendent Gabe Devono.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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